Offering gallery exhibits and arts education can be a tough gig at the best of times, but when a pandemic forces the doors closed then one must find ways to be extra-creative to spread the word and share the lessons.
The Art Gallery of St. Albert has stepped up to that challenge without even breaking a sweat. Ever since the middle of March, the cultural institution’s team of arts programmers has turned into a squadron of online video stars, turning out arts and crafts lessons, behind the scenes tours and more, all to an overwhelmingly appreciative home audience.
Take the May 19 edition of Art Nook at Home, for example. Program manager Shannon Vance took socks and offered step-by-step instructions to turn them into creative COVID-19 masks.
“The masks received a pretty good response from the public. Shannon has done a couple of community programs; generally, Shannon does the school programming. I think that was her second one. The rest of the staff have been doing a lot of community programming through a virtual kind of programming that we've been offering,” explained director and curator Jenny Willson.
“Shannon had really just wanted to do something silly because we've been talking about how everyone walking around wearing medical masks is depressing. What do kids think about that? How could you put a different spin on it for the younger generation?”
By turning a sock into a mask that has a dog nose and a wagging tongue on it, that’s how. All you need is 10 minutes and any old fabric (though a sock seemed to have a natural shape and stretch for the project), scissors, a felt pen, thread and needle, some cord or ribbon and a touch of acrylic paint.
Gallery staffers have been making the most of the opportunity to reach as broad a home audience as possible. They have posted dozens of these online videos over the last several weeks and their popularity shows. Willson noted there has been a “huge uptick” in views and in community engagement with the posts.
“We've been tracking some of our steps and have been getting a lot of engagement, which is really, really reassuring. It’s also good to know that people are doing the activities and looking to be creative at times like this, which is really good.”
Check out Art Minute with exhibitions assistant Emily Baker, which is just as the title suggests: one minute to look at a piece of art with the help of your own personal docent to better understand and appreciate it. Baker recently offered a tour through High Energy 25 through this venue. The exhibit produced by students from city high schools is virtual this year through the gallery’s website at artgalleryofstalbert.ca.
Baker, under normal non-pandemic circumstances, would be the in-person tour guide at the gallery. Art Minute tours are the next best thing at the moment.
“If you can't come to the gallery then you can participate in one of these tours from the safety of your home. The same with the Art Nook at Home videos that all of the programming staff has been collating. If you can't come to the gallery and do our free hands-on artistic programming, then what can you do at home with readily available supplies?”
As the gallery prepares to reopen most likely in a few weeks, its staff will continue to produce these videos. Check out its Facebook page as new ones come out.